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Last updated:27 April 2015


Education resources availableThe Working Class Movement Library is fortunate in possessing two major collections of books on Ireland, plus an extensive collection of pamphlets and leaflets.

The earlier collection was made by Thomas Alfred Jackson (1879-1955) (TAJ), founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and an outstanding orator, writer and organiser. Exceptionally widely read and a brilliant lecturer, TAJ delighted innumerable audiences with his humour and clarity of expression.

Photograph of TA (Tommy) Jackson

TA Jackson

Like his father and grandfather before him, he was a compositor by trade and as a boy he learned something of Irish history. This sowed the seed of his lifelong devotion to the cause of Irish freedom. As early as 1904, Jackson was asked by an Irish comrade to write a history of Ireland.

But it was not until 1943 that the first draft was completed. The manuscript was too long for the publisher, who told Jackson to cut it by half. It was published as Ireland Her Own: An Outline History of Irish Struggle. The drastic cutting Jackson had to undertake is responsible for its somewhat spare and skeletal style. The material excised has been lost, but Desmond Greaves wrote a modern epilogue bringing the story up to 1970 for the edition which is still in print.

Meanwhile, TAJ had accumulated a magnificent library of material on the subject. There are over thirty general histories, several in multiple volumes such as the works of Moore, D'Alton, Leyland, Smyth, Froude, Wakefield and Leeky. There are over a hundred biographies and autobiographies with much about the United Irishmen, the Fenians and the Easter Rebellion. Among the books of particular interest are the editions of Wolfe Tone's autobiography. There is the 1826 Washington edition edited by Tone's widow and son, together with that of the following year. There is also the 1893 edition by R Barry O'Brien and the 1937 edition abridged by Sean O'Faolain. These have now been supplemented by the recent definitive 3-volume Oxford University Press edition.

Some of the books on Ireland already held by the Working Class Movement Library have been incorporated into the TAJ collection. For example, Madden's three-volume edition of The United Irishmen has joined the four volumes already in the Library.

Some of the books are concerned with the early history of Ireland. There is Pacata Hibernia: A History of the Wars in Ireland, 1623. This has large folding plates. Musgrave's 1802 edition of Rebellions in Ireland is in two volumes and joins the Earl of Clarendon's Rebellions and Civil Wars in Ireland, published in 1720. Edward Hay's History of the Insurrection of the County of Wexford in 1798, which was published five years after the events, and the Revd James Gordon's History of the Rebellion in Ireland, 1803, are also in the collection.

There is the folio edition of The Report of the Committee of Secrecy on Ireland and a bound volume of pamphlets which includes the Trial of Emmet in 1803 and that of the Revd William Jackson for high treason in 1795. Other trials are represented by the two versions of The Trial of O'Connell, that of Rowan in 1794 and the State Trials of 1865-7. There are several important bound collections of pamphlets, including those by Arthur O'Connor. These are slim books but they include his Letter to Lord Castlereagh, written in prison and dated 1799. It was published without a printer's imprint possibly to evade prosecution.

TAJ attached some importance to the novels of Charles Lever because there are eleven of them, in the Tauchnitz edition published in Leipzig during the 1840s. The Life of Lever is included in the two volumes written by WJ Fitzpatrick. His other works are represented by The Curious Family History of Ireland before the Union in the 1869 edition, Secret Service Under Pitt, 1892, and The Sham Squire and the Informers of 1798 in the 1895 edition.

In making his collection, TAJ assembled many of the works mentioned by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they were studying Irish history. Wakefield's general history was described by Engels as 'a most valuable work' (Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 2 1, p156). Marx recommended Engels to read the speeches of John Philpot Curran, edited by Thomas Davies. He wrote in December 1869, "You must get Curran's Speeches edited by Davies ...I consider Curran the only great advocate of the eighteenth century and the noblest nature." (Marx to Engels, Selected Correspondence, 1934, p.281 and n.250). Other treasures include a first and second edition of The Spirit of the Nation, a collection of poems written by contributors to the newspaper The Nation in 1845 together with the folio edition of 1892 which has the music.

Apart from the volumes mentioned, the TAJ collection, which was given to the Library by his daughters, Stella Hagan and Vivien Morton, is rich in poetry, ballads and colour prints. Stella used her father's books to make a detailed study of Irish history. She wrote an excellent novel about the 1790s, The Green Cravat, published in 1959.

The second and more recently acquired collection was made by C. Desmond Greaves and deposited in the Library by his heir and literary executor, Anthony Coughlan.

Photograph of C Desmond Greaves

C Desmond Greaves

Few who knew Desmond Greaves were aware of the wide interests and scholarship of this remarkable man. Born in Birkenhead in 1913 he, like Jackson, devoted his life to the cause of Irish freedom. Although he entered Liverpool University to study botany and chemistry, subsequently becoming chief research chemist for Powell Duffryn, he abandoned this promising career in order to further the cause of a united and independent Ireland.

During the 1930s he became a convinced Socialist and in 1934 joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1941 he joined the Connolly Association, three years after its foundation, and became editor of its monthly paper, Irish Freedom - from 1945 The Irish Democrat - a position which he held until his death in 1988. In that time he became one of Ireland's leading labour historians, writing biographies of James Connolly, Liam Mellows and Sean O'Casey, as well as the history of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, Ireland's largest trade union. This was commissioned by that union's executive. He also wrote other books, articles on political and historical subjects as well as many pamphlets. His musical interests were entirely classical; he was very knowledgeable about, but he had no great love for, Irish music.

To see Desmond's books in his home at Birkenhead was a rare privilege. It was an impressive library. As a poet with much published and unpublished work to his credit, he assembled a fine collection of poetry and many volumes on aesthetics. He was planning a philosophical volume on this subject and had filled many notebooks with relevant material. As a linguist who translated Mareel Prenant's Biology and Marx into English he had many books of scientific interest in several languages. His Irish library is really a Celtic collection embracing Scotland, Wales and Brittany as well as Ireland.

The Irish collection is strong on the early history and supplements TAJ'S. It includes The Annals of Ireland translated from the Irish of The Four Masters by Owen Connelan Esq. It was published in Dublin in 1856 in a large folio volume. Frederick Engels in his unfinished work, The History of Ireland, refers to this book as 'our main source on conditions in old Ireland' (Collected Works, vol.2 1, p. 17 I.).

Other early works include Plowden's Historical Review of the State of Ireland, 1803, in three folio volumes, and four large tomes of Macarla Exidium or the Revolution in Ireland 1692, translated from the Latin by Colonel Charles O'Kelly and published in 1850. Although there is only one of the four volumes of The Itinerary of Fynes Moryson, it is that which covers the Irish rebellion in the sixteenth century. It is a source which Engels considered to be 'an indispensable, badly needed complement to the scanty original sources' (Ibid., p. 173).

The biographies and autobiographies in the Greaves collection are complementary to those in the TAJ. They include Swift and other literary figures as well as numerous modern works. A small but most important section is on Roger Casement. This includes the 1922 edition of the Casement Diaries published in Munich as well as the 1959 Paris edition printed in 1500 numbered copies. There are also about fifty books and pamphlets by or about Sean O'Casey. Desmond Greaves collected them when writing his book Sean O'Casey, Politics and Art which was published in 1979. The Easter rebellion in 1916 and the Irish war of independence and civil war are chronicled by friend and foe. Probably all the books and pamphlets written by James Connolly are included, some in first edition. The interesting volume by Carl and Anne Reeve on James Connolly and the United States which was published in New Jersey in 1978 is in the collection.

To complement the bias of the TAJ collection towards earlier history, Desmond Greaves is particularly strong on modern times since 1945. There is much on economic history, the land question and social conditions. The printed material is supplemented by an extensive microfilm collection mainly gathered in connection with his researches on Connolly, Mellows, O'Casey and the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. It includes the New York Leader and The Irish World and Industrial Advocate, 1917-19. These are two of a comprehensive collection of Irish working-class and radical papers of the early twentieth century which will be an invaluable source of material for researchers on Irish labour history. Among them are The Irish Worker, 1911-14, The Workers' Republic, 1921-22, The Harp, the Watchword of Labour, 1919-20, The Glasgow Forward and The Belfast Chronicle, 1904-06. Many of these papers refer to the doings or contain examples of the writings of the historical figures whose biographies Greaves published.

One book is of particular interest. It is JD Clarkson's Labour and Nationalism in Ireland. Only 200 copies were printed which accounts for the fact that a diligent search over twenty years failed to find a copy. It was published in New York in the Columbia University series Studies In History, Economics and Public Law. The author presented Desmond Greaves with two copies. One he passed to the Irish labour leader, Tom Johnson. The other remains in the collection.

Among the volumes are many which refer to the history of the Irish in Britain, a growing field of Photograph of books from the WCML Irish collectioninterest and research. Desmond Greaves's literary executor continues to supplement the collection with a number of other modern works, to fill any significant gaps and to ensure that it is as comprehensive as possible in its coverage of contemporary Irish history, politics, economics and public affairs. The Greaves estate has also undertaken to add new material that may from time to time be published. In that way, the collection will be of maximum value to students of the history of Ireland, the Irish community in Britain and for the growing Irish studies movement whose interests tend to overlap with those interested in labour history.

The two collections are shelved separately, but in the same room on adjacent stacks, a fact that would, no doubt, have pleased both Tommy Jackson and Desmond Greaves. They collected their books to write and lecture on Ireland, its history and current problems. They were both inspired by a fervent desire to see Ireland united and independent - and they shared a belief in its socialist future. If their enthusiasm and loyalty to the cause to which they both made such an outstanding contribution is conveyed to researchers and students who use their libraries, the attainment of the ideal to which they devoted their lives will become much nearer reality.

Selected bibliography

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